Thursday, June 30, 2011

An Italian Girl in... PARIS

Despite a centuries-old rivalry between Italians and French, I have to admit: there’s no such place as Paris and no better place to start this section about travelling. La ville lumière is the best expression of the French grandeur. Both in positive or negative terms. Be prepared to experience the top: this is Paris!
Let’s start from some “must-haves” to get the best out of this amazing city and its culture.

1)     A good dictionary: it doesn’t matter how advance you are: Parisians love to speak their  language - even with foreigners - so any effort on your side will be compensated with polite and helpful answers. A good French becomes essential if you plan a longer stay: any job post at any level requires applicants basic or fluent French: don’t forget to take a language course if you want to settle there for some months.
2)     A “métro” map: the public transport “par excellence”. The subway brings you wherever and some of the central stations would actually deserve a visit: they host shopping malls, wall paintings and a lively snapshot of the city life.
3)     A city map by “arrodissements”: the arrodissements are the twenty districts in which Paris is divided. The people use to locate everything on the basis of the relevant arrodissement, that’s why it’s important to have an idea of their split.
4)     A French phone number: any French phone company makes good deals for a mobile + rechargeable card with several options to call abroad.
5)     Your laptop/Ipad: to enjoy the free wi-fi connection in almost every spot of Paris.

Beside the landmarks and places that are well documented in each of the hundreds publications about the French capital, there are some places and experiences that I strongly recommend to fully appreciate the magic atmosphere and the historical heritage of Paris. Of course the view on top of the Eiffel Tower, the masterpieces at the Louvre museum and the architecture of Notre-Dame de Paris are unforgettable, however I suggest you to take some time out of the touristic itineraries. It’s in those boulevards where there is nothing to sightsee that Paris is just “Paris”: that is, bloody charming!
Here you have my “best ten”: just some tips to begin with, I’m sure you’ll quickly find your own way to be Parisian, as I found mine.

1)     Une soirée au cinema (a night out to the cinema): remember that you are in the homeland of cinema. The French are very fond of it and they have a rich movie industry that produces witty comedies and is quite active in investing on young directors (definitely a point where our “cousins” on the other side of the Alps gain on us). There’s a wide choice, you just have to figure out what matches your tastes. For those who enjoy sarcastic comedies I recommend movies by Agnès Jaoui.
     2) Une promenade dans le Marais (a walk in the Marais district): le Marais (3rd and 4th arr.) is one of the most charming areas in Paris as it preserves its ancient architecture. During the day you can enjoy (window)-shopping in its show rooms and small boutiques or visit a museum (Musée Picasso, Rue de Thorigny; Musée Carnavalet, Rue de Sévigné). Don’t miss a walk in the former Jewish ghetto, where you can taste a piece of Mediterranean at Chez Marianne, in rue des Hospitalières-Saint Gervais. At night you can go for a drink in one of its cafés and clubs. If you really want to be parisien I suggest Au petit fer à cheval: there’s nothing more Parisian than this.
     3)“Coup de theatre” (going to the theatre): if you speak some French, the best choice is a night of Comédie Française: the comedy in France dates back to the XVII century. Salle Richelieu or Studio-Théâtre usually have a good season at affordable prices. If you are a fan of musicals you should opt for Théatre du Châtelet.  
4)     Un bouquin sur la Seine (a book on the Seine): on the left bank of the Seine (the well-known Rive Gauche), where the Quartier Latin begins, you can find several bouquinistes: bookstalls where you can get the French literature masterpieces for few euros. A nice way to improve your French.
5)     Un thé chez Mariage Frères (a cup of tea at Mariage Frères): the best teas in Paris are sold here since 1854. It has several salons in Paris, the best one is in the 8th arr. (Faubourg Saint-Honoré). Forget about your diet for one day and indulge on some home-made patisserie with your tea: definitely worth some extra jogging on the following morning.
6)      Un après-midi en Velib’ (an afternoon by Velib’): the Velib’ are Paris public bikes for rental. For less than 10 euros you can get a bike for two hours and enjoy a tour around the town centre, along the Seine or in a park.
7)     Chez les marchands à Belleville (at Belleville’s market): the exotic soul of Paris. Belleville area is a melting pot of people from all over the world – especially Maghreb - who migrated here in the XX century. The Saturday morning market is the best expression of multicultural France: a colourful mix of fruits, spices, ethnic food, flowers and a melting pot of languages. Basically, a picture of the modern French society.
8)     "Boite à photos" (“photo box”): You cannot miss the chance to portrait your own Paris. Going out randomly with a camera, taking pictures of people, places, situations will result in the best souvenir you can bring home. Last but not least: spend a couple of hours in La Maison Européenne de la Photographie, or MEP (rue François Miron, 4th arr.).
Un apéro en peniche (a drink on a house boat): if you wonder how it would be like to live on those cute house boats along the Seine, an evening on a peniche is the best way to make up your mind about that (at a more reasonable price than buying one). Many of them are now used as restaurants offering a cruise along the river while dining. Also a great idea to celebrate a birthday, an anniversary or to surprise a person…got the message, you boys???
  10) “Une Perrier citron” (a glass of Perrier with lemon): a product the French are proud of – almost as they are of their wines – this is not simply water but an actual drink to order when going out. Nothing to do with the widely served tab water or normal mineral waters: “c’est une Perrier”, in its green VAP bottle, very sparkling, very French. The best way to taste it is with some lemon slices, sitting calmly a bistrot pavement when the sun shines above Paris.

Bon voyage!

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